Prodigy Died and This is What I Felt

Prodigy died and so I called one of my friends, someone who had known him.

He hadn’t known him particularly well, but over the years they’d done some business together. He said that every time he saw him — even as recently as two weeks ago — Prodigy was always cordial. He’d ask how he was, and sometimes offer to do things (like record guest verses) at bargain bin rates, which you wouldn’t expect a legendary artist to do at this stage of his career.

Or, maybe you would. As it is with artists whom the spotlight has long since left behind, and especially these days, when it is sort of lean times in the record business, you’ve got to keep working. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be nice about it, and many aren’t. However, in all the stories I have heard about Prodigy, and even some light interaction I had with him myself, he was always very friendly. You got the sense that in 2017, with his health issues (he long suffered from sickle cell anemia) and the jail sentence (he was in jail from 2007–2011), he was just happy to still be here.

Anyway, the news of his death hit yesterday, and so I got on the phone with this friend, and we talked a little bit about being numb. It was something about social media, and the rash of recent deaths in the hip-hop world, and how these deaths had allowed people to sort of cash in on these moments, through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. It wasn’t that Prodigy had died, it was that by way of him dying, everyone — including us — felt the need to immediately share something about the guy, racking up “likes” along the way, and that by doing that, we weren’t processing what had actually occurred.

A man lost his life. He left behind family, friends, music, a legacy. For many, he was just a person they knew, and were now memorializing, through a screen. For others, he was an actual person — and his death hurt.

Last night, after I got home from the gym, some time around 10:30, my wife was playing Mobb Deep’s The Infamous LP. She commandeered the SONOS for about a half hour, then I asked if I could take over, at which point I began a long, deep dive into Prodigy’s solo material and guest appearances. His catalog is so deep and so rich, with so many songs that come back to me, word for word, as if they were pages in a book I had read continuously, like a Bible or something. It is truly strange what kind of lasting effect music has on you.

But then, maybe it’s not that the music is lasting, more so that it has been internalized, part of the fabric that makes you you. An example: two weeks ago, I was in New Haven, C.T., for the Yale Writer’s Conference, and in the evenings, when other attendees gathered to drink or have dinner or retire to their dorm rooms so that they could polish up the writing they had been so intensely workshopping during the day, I went for long, meandering strolls around the city.

As it was then, I would sometimes have my headphones on, and during one of those strolls, a particularly lonely and reflective one, when something that had happened during the day seemed to have carried over into the evening, and I was kind of bothered and annoyed and in one of my moods, I turned on “The Start of Your Ending,” and immediately felt the bop in my walk change, my chest puff out. The music, which I had heard thousands of times before, but had not listened to in some time, felt quietly seething — not angry, but deceptively aggressive. Walking those darkened streets, listening to Mobb Deep — listening to Prodigy — I began to feel, suddenly, much more like myself again.

Prodigy is no longer with us. But I am deeply grateful for the music he made, which is every much a part of who I am today. I want to thank him, and hope he rests in peace.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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